The Business Travel Magazine Dec/Jan 2019/20

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TALKING TRAVEL

Pushing the boundaries

DOM JOLY

The comedian, columnist and travel writer tells Angela Sara West

about braving the Congo, deserts and celebrity-filled jungles

Pulling pranks on unsuspecting

celebrities and members of the

public on his pioneering Trigger

Happy TV show, screened in over 80

countries, means boundary-pushing

funnyman, Dom Joly, hears his globallyfamous

catchphrases worldwide.

“I get ‘HELLO!’ shouted at me in more

languages than you might have thought

possible,” he tells me. “And I still don’t have a

good comeback!”

His edgy exploits as a serial globe-trotter,

seeking dangerous travel spots to satisfy his

interest in the places most people avoid, has

seen him hit some of the most hostile

environments on earth: North Korea, Syria,

Chernobyl... “I’m addicted to wanderlust.

There is no bigger thrill for me than the first

moments in a new destination, trying to

work the place out and get a feel for it. I then

embark on an adventure that allows my

books to write themselves,” he says.

Joly is also drawn to destinations with a

dark past, and adores sharing stories of his

amazing off-the-beaten-track adventures

in his books and travelogues, aiming to

challenge people’s perceptions of places

often misrepresented and misunderstood.

In his quest to visit the world's most

unlikely tourist spots, he has skied the

segregated slopes of Iran and taken in

Chernobyl “before it became trendy”.

Beirut-born Joly grew up in a warzone,

with shells landing literally on his back

doorstep, and went to the same school as

Osama Bin Laden. His war-torn childhood

and subsequent travels are both a source of

inspiration for his comedy TV material, along

with his books, which captivatingly recount

some of the scariest, strangest and most

downright dangerous places he's

encountered on his travels.

With a distinct taste for deserts, he’s done

the Sahara, the Mojave, The Gobi and the

legendary Empty Quarter. The appeal? “I find

deserts enormously relaxing,” he explains.

They’re the only places where I unwind.

They are definitely my happy place.”

Fearless Joly believes everyone should

get out of their comfort zone and ‘lose

themselves’ for a month. “Head to Morocco if

The Congo was

hair-raising, Syria

is a staggeringly beautiful

country, and North Korea is

like visiting another planet”

you’re a lightweight; Algeria, if you’re serious

about it,” he advises.

The unrelenting explorer describes his

latest book, The Hezbollah Hiking Club,

recounting tales from his epic hike with two

pals trekking the Lebanese Mountain Trail,

from the Israeli border to the Syrian border,

as a “love letter” to Lebanon.

The highlights of reconnecting with the

country so close to his heart? “I loved visiting

the Hezbollah Resistance Museum, a kind of

alternative Disneyland, and the Qadisha

Valley, the jewel in Lebanon’s Crown.”

He encourages readers to visit his homeland,

but why should it be on our travel radar?

“Lebanon, at its best, is a combination of the

South of France, California and Switzerland.

Think pine forests, beaches, skiing, Roman

ruins and the food… oh God, the food!”

He’s felt most frightened while ‘monster

hunting’ in the Congo, trekking through

forests to a machete-wielding tribe whose

permission he needed to reach a lake which

is home to a mythical monster. It was no

laughing matter when they got drunk on

“jungle gin” and, after one attacked him, a

petrified Joly escaped by canoe. “I’m most

uneasy when I feel a complete loss of

control. The Congo was hair-raising and very

difficult to travel through as a solo traveller.”

Cambodia, Syria and North Korea are

among his favourite destinations, despite

once being forced at gunpoint to go for tea

after rejecting an invitation from a lorryload

of Syrian Bedouin! “Mainly because there

aren’t many other tourists about, although

Cambodia is getting there. Syria is a

staggeringly beautiful country and North

Korea is like visiting another planet.”

Joly’s experience on ‘The Island’ off Panama

with Bear Grylls is the hardest thing he’s ever

done. “The biggest high was just surviving. I

didn’t eat a thing for two weeks and lost two

and a half stone, which was a bonus. By day

ten, I had lost all energy and was pretty

useless, plus things weren’t helped by being

eaten alive by sandflies.”

And how was his experience down under,

on ‘I’m a Celebrity…Get Me Out Of Here’?

“Compared to the ‘The Island’ it was like an

exotic spa holiday. It was the ultimate

technology and social detox. I didn’t have to

worry about anything for 21 days – except

spiders and Gillian McKeith!”

40 THEBUSINESSTRAVELMAG.com

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